Screwtape, a peek at the enemy’s playbook

The current stage production of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” offers a visually engaging way to consider the ways that we are tempted while maintaining the wit and essence of Lewis’ classic book. The 90-minute production is fast moving and will leave you with a lot to discuss on the way home.

Max McLean plays Screwtape, a chief tempter in Hell who corresponds throughout the play with his nephew/apprentice Wormwood. McLean’s character is reptilian from the start with a undisguised menace beneatha demeanorof sophistication. College grads should think of the meanest (not most difficult) and most petty professor they ever encountered. By the final curtain, Screwtape is a raging beast, fearful of his own sinister master and spewing threats at his doomed nephew. No creature is the master of his own sin.

The chief tempter is assisted by a raggedy but attentive cat (imagine that) portrayed by Karen Eleanor Wight. Miss Wight also provides some visual comic relief in her character’s role as personal assistant to Screwtape. Adding her to the stage makes the dialog between Screwtape and the unseen Wormwood work as she takes dictation and sends the correspondence. Wight contorts herself and lolls about on the furniture as you’d see a housecat do. It’s a great diversion that does not distract.

Tammi and I very much enjoyed the production and noted the way Lewis’ observations on sin and temptation from nearly 70 years ago (and the adapters’ selections from them) hold up so well in our present day. It’s a testimony to the unchanging nature of people as well as to the timeless perspective of a great writer.

McLean also served as one of the adapters of Lewis’ work. He is the president of the Fellowship of Performing Arts, an organization that seeks to engage a diverse audience with literature based on a biblical view of God, man, sin, and redemption. Screwtape’s clear description of sin and temptation cleverly gets under the defenses of those who might downplay the sinfulness of men. Mission accomplished, in this case.

Screwtape sold out in Houston before moving on to Austin. The only other date currently on their schedule is in New York. Here’s hoping they’ll have some other performances in Texas, maybe Dallas and San Antonio. Don’t miss it if you get a chance to attend.

You can keep track of future dates and learn more about the FPA and its production of The Screwtape Letters at ScrewtapeOnStage.com.

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